Editor’s Note: This is the third portion of Little Jack’s Backstory that he has been dictating to me. By the way he loves to hear from those who have enjoyed his story. Please share any of your thoughts with us.
That first night was awfully scary. That is because in the distance I heard the yipping and howling of coyotes. I could not see them, but I knew they were out there. They yapped and howled all night in a most unnerving way. While I had never confronted coyotes before, somehow I knew if they found me, it would not be good. I slept little and restlessly that night with one ear cocked up.
When the sun finally rose over the distant hills, I felt safer. I also felt hungry, as it had been a day since I had last eaten. With my nose to the ground I began to search for something to eat. Despite my concerns over finding food and safety while on my own, I reveled in my freedom and chance to explore new territory. At last the whole world lay before me just as I’d always hoped. It was like the world had become one big dog park.
Later that morning while walking down a stream bed I came across a strange round animal. The animal moved slowly and awkwardly. When I approached it, the animal pulled its head back into its hard shell that covered its body. I pawed at the animal, tempting it to come out. I managed to tip the animal over, but even then the animal did not stick out its head. I tried licking on the strange animal and found it cold, and it didn’t taste very good either. I decided I wasn’t hungry enough to wait out this odd creature. I departed to search for better hunting.
The following day, I had still not eaten and my hunger had increased. I sensed a hollow feeling in my belly. Later that morning I came upon an animal that had thick scaly plates all over it, but this one moved considerably faster than had the round animal with the shell. This new animal could not retract its head into its shell as had the first one, and it gave me a tremendous chase before I managed to catch it. I bit down on its plated tail, only to have its powerful legs and clawed feet pull away from me.
The animal was almost as big as I was and seemed determined to escape. Eventually I grabbed its pointed head and shook that animal for all I was worth. I think I broke its neck, as while shaking it, I heard a snap like that of a breaking twig.
Desperate from hunger, I believed this animal could serve as a meal. After shaking the life from the armadillo, I began to tear at it with my teeth and claws until I penetrated its covering on its underside. It wasn’t the best of meals, yet the meat was warm and filled my empty belly. With improving hunting abilities and finding these animals plentiful, armadillos kept me mostly fed for the time I was on the road.
My excellent sense of smell helped me greatly and led me to many meals. I also learned on really hot days the rotting carcasses had extra vibrancy and could be more easily located. I learned this especially by finding dead animals along a roadside. While off putting, the strong smell simply had to be overlooked in order to serve as a meal.
Many days later while watching a ranch house from a safe distance, I saw a panel truck rumble up to front door of the house. The truck stopped in the driveway, and the driver climbed back into the back and pulled out a package. He then got out the back door of the truck, placed the package under his arm, and proceeded to take it to the door where he left it. Remembering how much I loved to ride, I impulsively ran to the truck and jumped through the open back door. Sometimes I just do things on the spur without thinking much about it.
Once in the truck I looked about and quickly learned that the truck had no windows from which to see the passing scenery. I was disappointed. But it proved too late for me to jump out, as just then the truck’s back door slammed shut.
For the next several hours I mostly hid behind packages while the truck made multiple additional stops. At each stop the driver would remove one or more packages and deliver them to various houses.
Since then I’ve been asked if the truck was brown or if it had orange markings. I do not know because, you know, I am not very good at seeing colors. I can tell you though that the truck had a noisy ride and smelled of cardboard and paper.
I eventually felt the need to relieve myself. As I was closed up in the truck, I could not get out to find a proper pee target. To make matters worse, we traveled over bumpy country roads that worsened my sense of urgency. Eventually I couldn’t hold it any longer and hoisted a leg on a nearby box. Relief at last! I felt so much better.
That basic need addressed, I found myself again becoming hungry, which had remained my typical state ever since going on the road. While the driver of the truck was out delivering a package, I crept up next to his seat and pulled a food sack back among the packages and into my hiding place.
There I shared his sandwich, just like I had done in the big city with the sweet, flower scented girls. After finishing my fair portion of the sandwich and during one of the frequent stops, I returned the remaining food to its original place in an admittedly torn sack. I didn’t think the driver would mind or perhaps even notice. Well people, I was wrong!
When the driver stopped in a pull off area to eat his lunch, little did I expect his reaction? When he retrieved his lunch sack, he did not act at all as had the sweet smelling, young ladies in the big city. Not at all and, in fact, yelled out, opened the door to the back of the truck, and came back to where I was hiding. I saw his eyes cut to where I’d pee-d on one of the packages. I guess that too was a no-no, as he became even more excited. The driver began moving boxes around until he revealed me in my hiding place. I cowered back as far as I could. While he looked like a nice, clean-cut sort of young man, I learned that day that looks could be deceiving.
The next thing I knew, I was on the side of a busy highway. He had thrown me out the back of the truck. I licked my sore spots and thought how ungrateful the driver was. A real spoiled sport, I thought, because if the situation had been reversed, I would have gladly shared my armadillo with him. Ever since I have hated those panel trucks and will bark furiously whenever I see one. Panel trucks are bad news!
I began to trot alongside the highway. Some really large trucks screamed by with noisy wheels and huffy brakes. These trucks scared me and when I heard them coming, I would retreat into the weeds and trees alongside the highway. There I felt a little safer. I would hide until they passed.
Also to my surprise by the highway, I found old deer bones. I’ve always had powerful jaw muscles and was able to crack the bones and eat them, marrow and all. Occasionally I came across a freshly killed animal hit by a passing car. The deer meat, if it hadn’t already gone bad, was especially yummy. I was able to fill my belly in this way, although the quality of the deer carcasses proved variable. Nevertheless, my road-kill finds provided me with periodic meals and kept me going. I was, however, losing weight. I noticed my ribs had begun to protrude, and I stayed hungry most of the time. My energy also had begun to diminish. My paw pads had become sore and required my licking them thoroughly every evening before falling asleep.
I also once had a close call when dragging a dead possum off the road. I misjudged the speed of the approaching car and barely escaped becoming road-kill myself. I recall the blaring of the car’s horn and the screeching of its tires. The car just grazed me but left me with a sore hip and the bad smell of burning rubber in my nose. More than hurt, I was scared. I had come so close to being killed on the highway.
At my first opportunity I crossed the highway and headed down a shady, less traveled country road. I put increasing distance between the highway and me. On each side of the lane, I found ranches with a stream crossing under a bridge on the road. The cool water was so good. On one side of the road was a long stacked rock wall. I saw several horses peeking their big heads over the wall. They looked none too friendly to this hungry dog, and I determined their pasture wasn’t good to wander through.
While road-kill proved scarce along the country lane, the woods along the creek had live animals including squirrels, possums, mice, and armadillos. I couldn’t be sure of making a kill every day, but my hunting proved successful enough to sustain me.
One night the temperature dropped very low. When I had left my people from the big stinky city, the leaves had begun to fall from the trees. After having been on the road for a long time the nights became very cold and ice formed in the creeks.
It was during this cold time when one night I heard a loud screaming sound, a sound I had never before heard. The eerie sound caused me to lift my nose from under my tail where I had placed it to keep it warm. The frightening noise repeated many times, and I could tell it was coming closer and closer toward me. I jumped up onto a dark, rocky ledge. I drew back until my tail touched a wall. I crouched low. I lay very still on the cold rocks. I was downwind of the approaching animal. The scent in my nose was like nothing I had ever smelled.
Again I heard an even louder cry. Just then out of the shadows came the biggest cat I’d ever seen. It padded by not more than fifty feet away. The large animal was slender and had a small head. Its color was a light tone and it had a very long tail. Its eyes looked menacing and unblinking. I felt my heart race and I began to shiver in fright. Slowly, ever so slowly the cat silently moved my way.
My thoughts briefly flashed back to earlier in the day when I had found a huge store of deer bones in a nearby cedar thicket. Only after spotting the mountain lion did I comprehend what had created that bone yard. I understood the risk that now stood on four paws mere feet away from me. I remained very quiet, nearly frozen in terror. I prepared to fight as best I could should the giant cat detect my scent and attack. Oh I hope that mountain lion isn’t mad at me for discovering its haunt and for having taking some of its store of bones!
The mountain lion gave me the impression that it might slink off when suddenly it stopped, turned around, and stared vacantly with bright eyes in my direction. I saw its whiskers twitch. It must have sensed something but couldn’t identify where or exactly what was out there. I barely breathed and suppressed my desire to pant or to run. The giant cat took several steps toward me, but stopped, as if considering what next to do. I could tell the mountain lion was four or five times my size, and I instinctively knew that I could not outrun it and certainly couldn’t out climb it.
I searched my experience for a way to escape that scary predicament. What could I do? What could I do? Then it came to me– the bluff that Tex and I had played on the puppies. It was a real long shot, but I could think of nothing better. What choice did I have? Suddenly I drew myself up, pushed out my chest, and flung myself off the ledge. During my descent, I let out a fearsome howl and on hitting the ground, charged directly at the mountain lion. In the process I made as much noise as possible by knocking down small bushes and breaking sticks. The cat startled, shrank back, and then turned away. To my relief, it sprinted off into the woods.
As soon as the giant cat turned, I pivoted and raced away in exactly the opposite direction. I ran as fast as I could. My heart pounded, and I didn’t stop shivering from fright for several minutes. I had successfully bluffed that giant mountain lion. What luck. But it had been a very close call, far too close for my satisfaction.
I continued to run through the woods and didn’t stop until completely out of breath. About then I came across a flock of goats and sheep. I was tiring of being a lone dog and believed it would be safer to join up with those sheep and goats. After all, they were numerous and safety existed in numbers.
Just as I began to circle prior to plopping down, I saw an angry donkey heading my way, braying loudly. The donkey clearly was unhappy about something, as it had its head down and charged in my direction. When it turned around in front of me and just before it began kicking, I took my leave. But my terror due to almost having been kicked by an angry donkey had not ended, as I quickly encountered an even larger animal. It was light colored and had thick, shaggy fur, a long neck and later I learned it was a llama. The llama pursued me. I zigged and zagged in my attempt to avoid that strong-minded and persistent llama.
I tried running under trees beneath which it could not go. I wasn’t but about fifty yards from a barbed wire fence through which I was able to slip. The fence acted as a barrier and halted the mad llama. The shaggy beast stood at the fence looking really bossy and spitting at me. I then moved on down the country road.
Having barely reached safety, I trotted along the roadway and avoided pastures. I remember wondering why donkeys and llamas were so protective of goats and sheep and how ill mannered they had been. After all I wasn’t there to eat one of their precious charges, only herd up with them.
Not long after I found an even smaller road, heading off to the left. I took it because it put still greater distance between me and the mountain lion, donkey, and llama. After a while, I felt reasonably safe from those scary and cranky animals, at least safe enough to stop and rest. Indeed, I felt exhausted, emotionally shaken, and very sleepy.
Nearby was a dry creek bed where I curled up. Never before had I felt such total exhaustion. I covered my nose with my tail and rapidly fell asleep. I had a cold night’s sleep in that uncomfortable, rocky creek bottom. When I awoke I thought back to my previous warm beds in the big stinky city and the cozy dog box of my puppyhood. My life in the wild had evolved from a carefree adventure to what had become a journey increasingly packed with great risk and discomfort.
To Be Continued
Tagged: armadillo, Creative Nonfiction, Creative Writing, dog adventures, dog travels, dogs, donkey, donkey as protector of sheep, Little Jack Kerouac, Llama, Llamas as protectors of sheep, Mountain Lion, on the road